“How did you manage to get so many suits enchanted already?” asked Alma as she came up beside me.
The others had barely started testing out what their suits could do. Well, Emma was practically cuddling Raine now.
While wondering if I should attempt to free Raine, I replied “More secrets. Sorry. I’ll be able to tell you soon.”
“Showing me will probably be easier if the spell’s as complicated as you had said.” she suggested.
“No. Sorry. I never want to do that again.” I replied.
“James, did you kill someone?” she asked, sounding shocked.
“What? No! Why would you think that?” I inquired, equally shocked by the idea.
“There are ways to use people to power spells. You almost got caught in one before.” she told me.
I remembered. How could I not remember such a terrible plot being carried out at a school dance? “I know, but I swear I didn’t do such a thing.” I assured her.
“I didn’t really think you would, but I don’t have a good guess as to how you pulled it off.” she told me.
“Sorry.” I told her.
“Is Raine actually affected by catnip?” asked Alma.
Nodding, I said, “Surprisingly, yes.”
She laughed, and I enjoyed the pure beauty of it.
“Emma really shouldn’t have taken the risk.” she stated, still laughing.
“Risk?” I asked.
“Catnip essentially gets cats high, so Raine’s self-control is likely weakened at the moment. If she had a less amusing reaction, everyone could be dead.” she explained. “Still, I’m glad things worked out. This was worth seeing.”
“Ever try catnip on Alberich?” I asked.
“Maybe.” she replied coyly.
“How did it go?” I asked.
“He may or may not be in the percentile affected. Seeing a miniature lion being cozy with a plant might well be entertaining.” she claimed.
She ran, much faster than me with her own suit worn. I watched as she toyed with our friends, putting them off-balance with ease. There was a moment of fear as Raine rolled away from Emma before suddenly pouncing.
Time was frozen, and Raine had transformed. Her needle-like fur was more plainly visible than I had ever seen it. The distortions typically around her cat-like form were frozen as well. The claws coming from her hands seemed far too large to ever retract and came to very sharp points. Even frozen, I couldn’t wrap my head around the teeth in her mouth. What I was seeing didn’t seem possible, for there were far too many.
“Do you trust her?” asked Aaliyah.
I nodded and said, “Raine won’t hurt Alma. As bizarre as her eyes are, there’s still a playfulness to them.”
Aaliyah smiled and asked “Would you like to enhance yourself?”
I knew the spells. I could probably maintain them for a while.
“There’s an easier way, boss-man, sir.” she told me.
“Oh?” I asked.
“The potion that changed you placed limits on you, but they can be removed.” she stated.
“At what cost?” I asked.
“If you slip, you could burn through all your energy in an instant. On the other hand, you could keep up as long as you keep drawing more energy into yourself fast enough. You’ll need to focus, boss-man, sir. Really focus.” she told me.
“If I try this and then decide it’s a bad idea, is there a way to go back to how I am?” I asked.
“Of course, but that doesn’t mean I’ll do it for you.” she warned.
“What if I ask really nicely?” I inquired.
“You know I’ll do anything for you, boss-man, sir.” she replied with a smile.
“But that doesn’t mean you should.” I stated glumly. Many of her offers were far too outlandish to be considered. I really didn’t want to watch Alma speed beyond me, not anymore. “I accept, but would you mind letting me have a bit of a test run before life continues onward?” I asked.
She grinned and said, “Sure.”
“Ready when you are.” I told her.
“For?” she asked.
“The change.” I stated.
“Happened when you accepted.” she replied, looking adorably confused.
I moved, but I didn’t see any difference. “I don’t think it’s working.” I admitted.
“Want an instruction book? I pride myself on instruction manuals.” she claimed with a grin.
“A pointer perhaps?” I suggested.
“Fiiine. Just take the fun out of everything.” she replied with a very cute pout. “Focus on moving faster, pushing your limits. You just tried to move before, so you moved at your typical pace. You want to be faster, boss-man, sir. Be faster. Remember all of the times you’ve been too slow, and don’t be too slow this time.”
I couldn’t forget being too slow. I remembered Regina dying, because I was too slow to save myself… to save her. I remembered when I was human and thought Alma was an unbeatable force of nature. I remembered how she took me into the sewers to fight minotaurs. She killed them all when I was too slow to dodge. I remembered when she almost died, and I could do nothing to save her. Had I been faster to stop the necromancer, he wouldn’t have escaped. Had we found him more quickly, Mila’s original systems wouldn’t have been destroyed. I remembered the first time Raine transformed and how helpless I felt. There was no way to catch her.
I hadn’t even realized how fast I was moving till I tripped. Aaliyah caught me, running with me held over her head for a moment before slowly coming to a stop. I felt so weak as she set me on the ground.
“Aww… so fast, boss-man, sir. You were really moving!” she exclaimed. “I bet you would’ve made a nice splatter if I didn’t catch you.”
“Sorry.” I told her. I took a moment to realize she had carried me into my forest. I strained to pull energy to me. The strain reduced rapidly as I absorbed more and more. I hadn’t gone without energy in so long. I had forgotten that feeling of frailty. I absorbed more and more till I had far more than I usually allowed myself. Then I ran.
“Focus, boss-man, sir.” she told me, easily running alongside me. “Feel the energy draining. You need to stay focused and draw in enough to balance out your body’s use. Just like your enchantment, your body needs energy for the movement, it needs energy to counteract the friction between you and the air, it needs energy to keep you well-grounded, and it still needs energy to protect you and your clothing. Well, Emma might argue about the clothing.”
I tried, but there simply wasn’t enough once we left the forest. I slowed down till I could keep up with my usage.
“Where are we?” I asked, coming to a stop.
“Well, you ran for a good minute while decelerating, so roughly thirty-five point two three eight miles from home if we were to go straight there.” she replied with a grin. “Think of the sonic boom you’d be creating without the magic to cancel it out! The boss-man runs down a street and BOOM!”
“That would be quite terrifying.” I admitted.
“You seem to be getting the hang of things though. Wanna have a quick race?” she asked.
“Ha! I can’t win.” I stated.
“That doesn’t mean you can’t race!” she argued.
“Fine, but there isn’t enough energy around here to even push myself as hard on the way back.” I replied.
“Who says we have to stay here to race?” she asked with a grin.
I found that we were no longer on the highway where we had stopped, though we still seemed to be on a road of sorts. The sand around us looked purple, and three moons hovered in the sky. There was an incredible amount of energy throughout the air, nearly as dense as in my forest. Did she run me through the Intergalactic House of Awesome Sauce and onto another world? My thoughts veered away from a memory I didn’t want.
“Oh! You just thought of something neat!” she exclaimed.
“Well, we’re not on the same planet.” I stated.
“Not that. The bit about the restaurant that you didn’t want to think.” she replied.
“I had considered that the restaurant might not need to be entered by the door. It could sorta collect people from anywhere.” I told her.
“Yes! That part! Wouldn’t that be neat!?” she exclaimed.
“In a way…” I admitted, though I didn’t want the knowledge that brought about the conclusion. Those memories of my time spent using that room bothered me greatly. Power such as I had there was far too dangerous, since I didn’t have the wisdom to use it. What if I accidentally did something?
“You did!” exclaimed Aaliyah.
“What!? What did I do?” I demanded.
“Helped people. You felt them in need, and you subconsciously helped them. You never like worrying about the details, so don’t. We’re here to race!” she insisted.
“Where’s the finish?” I asked.
Grinning even wider, she said, “One thousand miles ahead.”
I gaped. That distance seemed insane for a “quick race”.
“Really push yourself.” she told me, taking position to run.
“I’ll fire the gun!” exclaimed a… different Aaliyah? Her clothes were entirely different at least, and the gun she held was bigger than she was.
I took position, feeling there was no point in arguing with what I was seeing. I pulled in more and more energy as I prepared for the gunshot. The boom of the shot was incredible, but I passed it shortly after I started running. Aaliyah was easily keeping pace, so I pushed myself harder, thinking of nothing but the road, my footing, and the flow of energy through me. I hadn’t ran for fun like this since I quit the track team.
I saw a finish line ahead with at least a hundred Aaliyahs cheering. Was this really a thousand miles already? In that moment she passed me. Then she passed me again, and again, and again. As I reached the finish line, she passed me once more. Looking back after I slowed to a stop, I guessed I had taken over a mile just to come to a full stop.
“How does Raine do it? She feels like it.” claimed Aaliyah, looking ready to go again. “Thanks! You look perfectly energetic too, boss-man, sir.”
“Is that how you do it as well?” I asked.
She brushed away the thought with a wave of her hand and said, “Nah. My feelings are for you, cake, my daddy, other friends. No need to waste feelings on stopping.”
I laughed and shook my head. Aaliyah was always amazing.